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Phonics have been widely used for approximately 100 years in teaching literacy and is currently the most popular way to teach English reading to children.

The goal of phonics is to enable beginning readers to decode written words by sounding them out and combining them together to form words. This process starts with phonemic awareness and progresses to developing the full ability to read.

Phonics is a method for teaching reading and writing. It involves teaching the reader to hear, identify, and manipulate “phonemes”.

What are phonemes?

A phoneme is the smallest unique sound in a system of language. These often correspond to the sound of a letter, but not always.

For example the letter ‘A’ makes the sound /a/ as in ‘bat’. However, the letters ‘TH’ together make a /th/ sound as in ‘that’. To further complicate things, the letters ‘ough’ can make an /ew/ sound as in ‘through’.

Learning phonemes is an incremental task that typically builds up your child’s ability to recognize different sound units in writing. Typically simple sounds are taught initially along with related words. Eventually more exceptions are introduced until your child’s ability to read more advanced words improves.

When teaching a child phonemes it is important that you have a good understanding of the sounds you are teaching. For example, the letter ‘B’ makes a ‘b’ but if it is stretched out it becomes two phonemes /b/ and /ee/. In practice the /b/ sound should be repeated instead of stretched out. To ensure you are teaching the correct sounds phonetic sound libraries can be found online and may be included in reading programs (such as the Children Learning Reading system).

Another aspect of phonetics is learning how to blend phonemes. Blending involves combing the different phonetic sounds into a word.

Phonetic Blending

Phonetic blending is a separate skill that your child has to learn and is not something that your children will do naturally. Typically a child will learn to recognize letters and be able to say what sounds they make. However, the ability to combine sounds smoothly won’t come initially. However, with continued support it will eventually ‘click’ and your child will be blending without thinking about it.

When demonstrating blending to your child be sure to sound out each sound properly. Stretch the sounds out and connect them smoothly and seamlessly.

There are two forms of blending: choppy blending and smooth blending.

Choppy blending involves saying each phoneme sound distinctly and separately. This form of blending is typically used to help your child become aware of the different sounds that make up a word and increase their phonemic awareness. When children first learn to read and sound out words they will likely use choppy blending. At this point they may recognize the sounds and say the word. At other times the actual word they are reading may have to be pronounced for them.

Smooth blending involves connecting each phoneme sound in a smooth manner. Sounds are typically stretched out to illustrate how each sound is connected. The goal is to establish the “connection” between different sounds. Not all phonemes can be stretched out (for example the /k/ sound) in which case choppy blending is used in these cases or simply repeat the sound.

Three approaches to phonics

There are three approaches to phonics which are based on similar principles but involve different methods and strategies. These are:

  • Synthetic phonics or inductive phonics
  • Analytical phonics or implicit phonics
  • Systematic phonics

What is synthetic phonics?

Synthetic phonics (sometimes called inductive phonics) is a phonics method that teaches children how to convert letters into phonemes and then blend the phonemes to form recognizable words.

The word ‘synthetic’ refers to the process of “synthesizing” words from its individual sounds. It involves interpreting each phoneme and blending them together to form the complete word.

What is analytical phonics?

Analytical phonics (sometimes referred to as implicit phonics) involves teaching reading by having children compare how words look and sound. This allows the children to identify patterns of how words are written and spoken. With this approach children can begin to associate the phonetic sound with different letters or letter combinations.

What is systematic phonics?

Systematic phonics involves using a set of related phonics instruction. This approach includes both synthetic phonics as well as analytical phonics.

This approach is called systematic because the letters and phonemes are taught in a specific order.

Related Pages

When do kids start reading?
What is phonics
Reading with phonics for children
What is phonemic awareness?
Phonemic awareness activities
Reading comprehension skills